5 Universal Business Truths Learned from McDonald’s

If you’re looking to buy into a franchise, you may as well learn from the best of the best: McDonald’s. Love the place or hate it, it’s the world’s most successful restaurant chain and the world’s most successful franchise story. So even if you hardly ever let your kids eat the food, are made sad by Happy Meals, and were completely disgusted by that Supersize Me movie, the fact remains that McDonald’s is doing something right as a franchise. You can learn a thing here, even if the franchise you want to have ownership in isn’t a restaurant and has nothing to do with food.

McDonald’s began in 1937 as a mere hot dog stand, the “Airdome”, owned by the brothers Dick and Mac McDonald in Arcadia, California. It was in 1940 when the brothers actually opened the restaurant called McDonald’s in San Bernardino. After experience proved to them that burgers were the most profitable thing for their restaurant to sell, the brothers began concentrating on those and had developed the prototypical “fast food” system by 1948.

In 1954, the entrepreneur Ray Kroc got a franchising contract with the McDonald brothers and permission to market the chain of restaurants that he began opening up with the now famous golden arches symbol. Kroc took over the McDonald’s name, business model, brand, and restaurants completely in 1961 (mainly because Dick and Mac didn’t have his business savvy).

Besides understanding how to write up contracts, what did Kroc and his marketing department understand that could take a fast food “burger house” and transform it into a globally known phenomenon that offers stock to investors? What can a franchisee learn from the success of the golden arches?

Systemization works. Each McDonald’s restaurant, everywhere, is at least a little bit unique. But the basic systems are precisely the same in every McDonald’s. The systems and the corporate common denominator (branding, food choices, sales promotions) allow franchisees to talk to and learn from each other, and yet they can remain their own person and manage things their own way. As a franchisee, you want to buy into a franchise that has a proven and successful system in place, and you want to work within that system rather than straining against it.

Mythology works wonders in branding and marketing. Remember the Hamburglar, Grimace, the French Fry Guys, and Ronald McDonald himself? Those characters embodied and expressed a whole mythology around McDonald’s. This appealed to something deep-seeded in our human culture and being, and of course it especially appealed to children.

Serving families is highly profitable. Speaking of children, they were and still are very important in getting adults to spend money in McDonald’s restaurants. Kroc and his marketers started target marketing children and families right from the start. Happy Meals are a supreme example of this. Another (noble) way that McDonald’s markets to families is through its famous children’s charity, the Ronald McDonald House. One of the commonalities of all McDonald’s restaurants is that they have a light-hearted family atmosphere inside, and many of them have little playground areas attached for the children to play in (and burn off some of that sugar).

Know, understand, and serve human beings’ needs. People need to eat. McDonald’s gets filling, tasty food to hungry people fast, and it does so at extremely competitive prices that almost anybody can afford. No matter what you personally think about the healthfulness or overall quality of the food, McDonald’s certainly is not in the business of trying to poison or kill people.

Cultural sensitivity keeps you in business. In response to growing consumer concern over the quality of calories consumed, McDonald’s has continued to add numerous healthier items on its ever-expanding menu since the turn of the 21st century. When a McDonald’s is opened in a foreign land, great care was taken to study the local culture first so that nothing on the menu is offensive or terribly out of place, and what is offered is going to be appealing. A European McDonald’s will serve wine, even though you’ll never find that on the menu in the U.S.

Keep these traits in mind in your own business.

Daniel Timmons is a professional blogger that provides tips and information on franchise opportunities and investments. He writes for Franchise Expo, the place to find the best franchise opportunities available.